Wiggle is a virtual synthesizer developed by newcomers 2nd Sense Audio, based on dynamic waveforms. The main premise is that each of the four oscillators are constructed out of four control points which, combined with a shape mode offering different ways to interpolate between the four points, allow the creation of dynamic waveforms where each point can move horizontally (phase) and vertically (amplitude) via a dedicated LFO – two for each point’s two axes of motion.
On top of this, the waveforms can be modified by adding synchronized overtones which are hard-synced to each wave segment, at any amplitude, frequency, and from a choice of waveforms, some of which are also amplitude modulated with a windowing function (a form of smoothing). This is similar to the resonance found in Casio’s phase distortion keyboards, but more flexible. They can bend and stretch as the control points move around.
In addition, each waveform can have its own customizable phase distortion curve or use a couple of sine-based tables for variable phase distortion. This can further mangle the sound of each of the four oscillators. Finally, there’s an amplitude envelope for each oscillator, which is invaluable for what’s to come later.
“Wiggle” Is A Technical Term
If this all sounds overly technical, I think the name of the synth is pretty apt. It’s called Wiggle because between the moving control points for graphing each waveform, the added resonant overtones that you can control, and the variable phase distortion, those of a less technical bent may rest assured in the knowledge that basically, this VST is dedicated to making waveforms that wiggle a lot! The GUI graphs the waves you’re making in real-time as you (and the LFOs) make changes, so newcomers to waveform creation should be able to get experimenting right away. In general, the GUI is excellent.
To further complicate the sound, there’s a bank of 4×4 knobs allowing any oscillator to frequency modulate any other one (or itself). This is where each wave’s individual amplitude envelope can really come into play, shaping the amount of FM over time.
Rounding out the oscillator section is a four-state morph grid, allowing you to set up all of the above parameters in four snapshots. From there you can morph between them with a puck, or set up a modulation path which the synth will walk through in a variety of ways.
Beyond the oscillator section there are two filters, of which each oscillator can go to one or the other or bypass filtering altogether, followed by a fairly comprehensive effect section.
Modulation is a bit unusual in that it’s entirely drag-and-drop. There are eight modulators which you can draw yourself with lines and variable curves, and these can function as LFOs or envelopes. Assignments are made by dragging into a knob, double-clicking to enter a modulation scaling mode for that knob, then dragging on the knob until the visual feedback around it is to your liking.
This double-click thing is a bit cumbersome, and the direct nature of the assignments do bar certain possibilities such as routing two or more modulators to one destination, but it’s easy enough to play around with once you get the hang of it. A well-written manual and interactive tutorial smooth out the learning process.
As far as I can see, there is no way to modulate the filter (or any other parameter) with keytracking; and the velocity modulation, which has an inbuilt attack/decay envelope, is not polyphonic. So if you play a soft note and get a closed filter, then a loud one to open the filter, that prior soft note will open up with the new one. While this can be seen as a limitation, I quite like it, because it gives unusual results – something of a common theme in Wiggle Land.
Also worth mentioning is the fully-fledged note and modulation sequencer. It has many different channels for modulations, step characteristics and tricks up its sleeve like stutters. I don’t have the space to go into it in detail, but it’s really great fun, and allows sounds to jump and twist around with ease.
The Good, The Bad And The Jaggies
Now, sound quality: Wiggle does a lot with its waveforms, and most of the time it shows in aliasing. I was using the highest sound quality mode, which I recommend. Even a raw sawtooth sounds a little bit frizzly in the low octaves and slightly inharmonic in the highs due to spectral fold-over. Add all of the wave-shaping trickery, and aliasing is going to be a part of the sound – especially above middle C. Clearly, this is not an analog emulation and you should factor these artifacts in as part of the sound character. This baby is certainly digital.
You aren’t going to get smooth, searing leads or silky treble string pads from Wiggle, but it does have its own charm and plenty of character, reminding me of a cross between something modern and something from 2007. Whether this is a problem or just part of the flavour will be a matter of your taste, but I found myself sometimes liking the artifacts, sometimes not noticing them at all, and sometimes wishing they would go away.
Wiggle is the sort of synth where you might find yourself cleaning up its output with treble cut and high-pass filters, because DC offset can accumulate with asymmetrical waveforms and the treble can get harsh with certain settings. The option to key-scale various parameters such as the filter cutoff, FM and PD amounts might help here, but appears to be absent.
A final mention must go to the CPU usage, which can be quite high, and seems to be constant, whether you are playing notes or not. In fact, sometimes it seems to use more CPU when silent! This is really strange, and I imagine some optimization would make it more usable, because some presets had my meter at 50% before I’d even touched a key.
Wiggle is a bold first project for a new developer. It does things differently, and those things are numerous. Frequently I found myself creating sounds I wasn’t expecting, being pleasantly surprised, and occasionally finding the texture in the high midrange a little bit grating. It could also use some optimization. I look forwards to seeing where 2nd Sense Audio go from here.
UPDATE: The latest (v1.02) version of Wiggle comes with 35 additional factory presets, modulator randomize feature and OP reset. This is a free update for Wiggle owners.
2nd Sense Audio Wiggle Review
Wiggle is a bold first project for a new developer. It does things differently, and those things are numerous. Frequently I found myself creating sounds I wasn't expecting, being pleasantly surprised, and occasionally finding the texture in the high midrange a little bit grating.